Yet another story that proves the importance of visual signals and polishing your package…
While the story below happened a while ago, it’s one that still resonates -- and is relevant -- to this day.
The managing director of a large financial services firm approached me after a presentation that I delivered to his group, and asked if he could speak privately.
He told me about an employee at his firm with brilliant ideas and an incredible track record -- someone who had all the attributes to be promoted to partner. But, she wasn’t.
When I asked him what the problem was, he actually hemmed and hawed but eventually told me her professional image (or lack thereof) was holding her back. He asked if I would meet with her to discuss possible executive coaching.
The second we met, I knew why this woman would never be promoted to partner. Her business suit was worn and mismatched. The dark navy of her jacket showed off the dandruff on her shoulders. Her nails were bitten to the quick, and she had a run in her stocking. I wish I was kidding. Unfortunately, I’m not exaggerating for dramatic effect; her appearance was dramatic enough!
I asked her if she knew why I was being asked to review coaching options with her. She expressed uncertainty, but I had come prepared. I pulled out two bars of soap in their wrappers. One wrapper was pristine. The other was torn, wrinkled, and had a dried drip of something suspicious on it. I asked which one she would buy in a store.
Without a second’s hesitation, she pointed to the soap in the pristine wrapper.
Then I explained that her personal “packaging” was hindering her professionally. She was shocked and upset.
No manager or previous supervisor had ever mentioned anything about this in more than 15 years in the industry. She didn’t realize her professional image needed an overhaul.
Unfortunately, most managers find it easier to give feedback about performance than about appearance. Yet both are important for professional success. After three months coaching this woman on her wardrobe choices, grooming and body language, she did make partner after her next review -- a happy ending, indeed.
How’s your professional packaging? Is it time to upgrade your appearance to match your goals? I’d hate to see your career languish because of something so simple to correct.
Here are two important reminders:
1. Don’t wait for someone to offer feedback. Become proactive and take a good look at yourself in a full-length mirror before heading out the door. Do you look clean, sharp, polished, pressed, well-groomed, and professional? If you aren’t sure, now’s the time to find someone you respect, someone who is all of those things, and ask. Then, take action!
2. Workplace clothing and proper grooming represent an investment in your professional future. Invest wisely. Many companies these days have no dress code. You may wonder -- if the receptionist wears jeans, why can’t you? I recommend erring on the conservative side in your choices, particularly if you meet with clients or senior management as part of your job. Always purchase the best quality clothes you can afford. You don’t need to make a fortune to buy clothes and accessories for work wisely. Thrift stores offer a wide range of barely worn professional items, many with tags still on them! A few good quality items trump a whole closet full of cheap and trendy ones.